One of the questions I get asked most often is “how do I become a camp director?”
There are also variations, like “how do I do what you do?”, “which degree is the best choice if I want to become a camp director?”, and my personal favourite “how do I, well… how do I become you?” (we laughed, and bonded, and now we’re pals!)
But there’s no easy answer to any of those questions. I tell people all the time that there’s no “right” degree to take to become a great camp director – while recreation management is the obvious choice and is usually at the top of my list if they NEED an answer… I always tell people that one of the beautiful things about camp is the unique backgrounds that everyone has, and the amazing diversity that brings to our programs.
SO, I decided to explore that concept a little further and reach out to some of the friends and colleagues that I respect the most in the camping industry and find out how THEY got to where they are… what their path was.
For our inaugural post in this series I chose a good friend of mine, and an AMAZING camp director Roxy Peterson. I met Roxy back in 2009 when we sat on a board together. He is one of the most passionate camping professionals I’ve ever met, and just a genuinely nice person.
Enjoy reading Roxy’s story and wonderful advice. I know I did!
Tell us about yourself.
I’m Roxy – Camp Director for the Ross Creek Centre for the Arts here in Nova Scotia.
I love to read, hike and I LOVE the Blues.
When I am not camp directing I am playing Blues Harp (Harmonica) for the Voodoo Charmers Blues band.
Actually that’s a lie…even when I am camp directing I am still playing the Harmonica. HA!
Can’t help it. The campers get it!
I like Swiss cheese and Turkey sandwiches.
How many years have you been involved in camping?
I have been in the camping industry for 18 years. Two as a camper and 16 as a staff member.
I call myself a Career Camper.
I have Directed Ross Creek’s Summer camp for over 8 years.
What positions have you held?
I have held the positions of Camp Counselor, Department Director, Assistant Camp Director and now Camp Director.
How did you become involved in camping?
When I was a child my Mum signed me up with an organization called the Children’s Country Holiday Fund. I ended up going to a camp on the site of an Edwardian mansion called “Cransford Hall” which is in Suffolk, UK.
We lived in tents for 2 weeks in a field away from the mansion with rogue but friendly Peacocks walking around.
CCHF was established in 1884 by Reverend Samuel Barnett and his wife Henriet. Originally called “The Children’s Fresh Air Mission (Off to the Country)” the charity’s aim was to take poor inner city kids from London’s slums to the seaside for holidays in the fresh air and country surroundings. In 1886 the name changed to The Children’s Country Holidays Fund (CCHF).
Then 101 years later I became a first time camper in the program and I never looked back.
What was your “ah-ha” moment when you knew you wanted to be a camp professional?
Becoming camp staff was a big step for me because it meant going to the USA for the first time and spending 2 months there. A year into my college diploma I started the sign up process through an organization called Camp America then as the summer drew closer the idea became less appealing and fell of my radar.
The following summer was the leap from college to University for me so I wanted to do something big so I signed up again and let the experience take me to Camp Lohikan in the Pocono Mountains in PA.
What did you study in school? How has it helped you in your camp career?
My degree was in Design Studies. My background in camping has always been very art focused. I spent 6 years working with the Arts and Crafts department at Camp Lohikan. My primary focus was the Woodworking studio.
I now direct a summer camp which has its main focus in the Arts. Ross Creeks summer camp works to help kids move to a post secondary career in the arts or to simply encourage kids to be lovers of the arts.
What was your “path” to your current position?
I certainly moved up in the ranks and moved around to over all three camps.
After working for Lohikan I took a 2 year hiatus from traditional summer camping and worked in Florida for the Department of Juvenile Justice. I wanted to get an immersed experience working with inner city kids from troubled backgrounds and boy did I get it!
I worked on a ranch-like-camp with a four tier promotion system for adjudicated females between the ages of 14-18. After 2 years I had learned all I needed to know, met some amazingly gifted staff/friends and decided to head back into traditional summer camping whilst starting the immigration process to Yarmouth, Nova Scotia.
I took the position of Assistant Camp Director for YMCA Camp Wapomeo.
My summer at Wapo’ was a bit of an emotional and eye-opening summer for me.
I began to question my motives for wanting a career in the camping industry. A lot of this was triggered a very cliquey returning senior staff team that I had entered into and the lack of training and support that I felt I did not receive.
Luckily the Camp Counseling team was amazing, supportive, and the campers made my summer there amazing.
I owe that summer to the Camp Counselors and Campers.
One of the things I am most proud of is the work I get to do with the Camping Association of Nova Scotia and PEI. I learned so much from others that had been in the industry long before I was born. I spent two great but challenging years as Vice President for the Association. I learned so much.
If there was one thing you could have done differently early in your career, what would it be?
Nothing! I’d do it all over again! Every step, every stumble and every win has made me a stronger leader.
I try my best to pass this on to my staff every summer.
What is your advice to a “shiny new” camp director?
Of your professional rules make rule 1: “DON’T PANIC!”
You and your staff will benefit greatly from this rule. Ultimately things at camp will and do go wrong no matter the time, planning or well-intentioned staff involved. What really counts is how well you deal with a situation and how fast. To panic is to lose control. By keeping your cool you will be able to fix a problem or minimise the impact of it.
Rule 2: Train your staff well and then trust them!
Rule 3: Never – EVER- let your staff walk into an evaluation not knowing what to expect. The outcome of their eval’ should never be a surprise. Talk to your staff every day. Check in with them. Critique on a daily basis. Encourage your senior staff that write evals’ to do the same.
My motto is “Guide – Adjust – Guide – Evaluate.”
Love your staff so that they can love your campers.
What advice would you offer future camp directors?
It’s hard work but it is the most rewarding work I have ever done in my life.
You have to be a community centred person.
Be prepared to go from receiving the magic of camp to creating the magic of camp.
Creating the magic of camp is a whole new level of magic.
The hours can be long, the preparation…a year’s work in advance but when it all comes together it is beautiful!
To contact Roxy just use the info below!
The Ross Creek Centre for the Arts
Facebook: Camps at Ross Creek
Twitter: Camps @ Ross Creek